The Jets have held preliminary contract discussions with TE Dustin Keller, according to a league source.
Keller, the team's most consistent playmaker last season, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. No deal is imminent, but this bears watching because he'd be the Jets' most prominent free agent in 2013.
Keller is due to make $3.05 million this season, thanks to an escalator that bumped his base pay by $2 million. Clearly, Keller isn't hurting, but it makes sense to lock him up for the long term.
He led the team last season in catches (65), receiving yards (815), receptions of 20+ yards (12) and receiving first downs (39). He was sixth among tight ends in yardage and ninth in yards-after-catch (320). Keller became the first tight end since Mickey Shuler in 1985 to lead the team in receptions.
More than anything, Keller is an ascending player, having demonstrated improvement in each of his four seasons. The Jets like to build around their core players, and this is an opportunity to do just that. Plus, he and QB Mark Sanchez have excellent chemistry and, as everybody knows, that sort of thing has been in short supply in Florham Park.
Locking up Keller also would lessen the burden next year, when several key players are eligible to become free agents -- namely Shonn Greene, Brandon Moore, Mike DeVito and Aaron Maybin.
Sanchez received an extension even though he had two years left on his rookie deal -- and he had a mediocre year in 2011. It sends a bad message if they don't reward the players that actually performed at a high level.